Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

July 3, 2012

Minnesota History Center explores big issues


— Thank goodness light-hearted art forms pop up throughout the Minnesota History Center in downtown Saint Paul because they balance deep, thoughtful exhibitions in the galleries.

“The U. S. Dakota War of 1862” for instance. Just opened June 30, with multiple points of view about a violent conflict historians say shaped the Minnesota known today.

“History matters because it shapes our lives,” says Stephen Elliott. He’s director of the state’s Historical Society.

“To understand this legacy is to better understand ourselves, and today.” Perhaps that’s just the thing to give meaning to a holiday.

Volunteering is a big vacation trend; maybe triggering thoughtful ideas should be too.

The much-anticipated Dakota War exhibit has received scrutiny from descendents of all the players – combatants, victims, victors, sufferers – all representing deep emotions.

Traveler-me wouldn’t have any of those from my East Coast heritage, but I can appreciate thoughtful exhibitions much more than lopsided displays.

Based on two of the Minnesota History Center’s on-going exhibits, I know an afternoon here during a Saint Paul holiday is a trustworthy idea.

“Minnesota’s Greatest Generation: the Depression, the War, the Boom” is one in which to immerse. Especially sitting on the floor of the paratrooper plane during the Normandy invasion.

Historians here call this storytelling style Life Arcs because it shows a multitude of ways people born in 1910 and 1920 spent their days.

Sit on a tall stool at the 1930s soda fountain; see what toys children who became WWII troops played with. Recall the Soapbox Derby with a homemade 1938 car. Real life like that.

Everything prepared me for the signature experience: seven minutes in a C-47, stories told in the voices of the generation who fought the war.

Real diaries. Real voices. Real news footage shown on two screens as if the plane’s windows. Real C-47 sounds.

Feel the fear. Emerge feeling ever-increasing respect for the veterans.

Softer mood in the ongoing “Open House: If These Walls Could Talk” galleries.

Clever notion here telling the history of 50 families who lived in the same Saint Paul house for 118 years.

Several rooms are cleverly interactive — three plates on the dinner table became multi-media shows about people who ate there when I walked up to admire the china.

Pull up the window shade and the scene on the outside changes. Believe the sign on one bed declaring “Sit” and be startled when the bed tells tales about the children playing and sleeping in this room through a century.

German, Italian, African American and Hmong were the families living their lives in this home.

Venturing beyond the History Center to explore more of Saint Paul I discovered Summit Avenue, so many Gilded Age mansions of various architectural styles that a walking tour easily lasts 90 minutes.

I started in the home of James and Mary Hill; he developed the Great Northern Railway and their home reflects superb architectural details and furnishings.

Their street is considered the longest in America with so many Gilded Age homes still intact. My tour guide reminded me that means the time from the end of the Civil War to the start of World War I.

Monumental boulevard wouldn’t overstate the beauty, or the story details about people who built these houses, their architects and modern-day Saint Paul preservationists who saved them.

F. Scott Fitzgerald lived on Summit Avenue awhile, in love with Violet Stockton who lived across the street from the Hill house.

Makes me want to read The Great Gatsby again, picturing him. And reminds me this city is filled with interesting turns and tastes.


Christine Tibbetts covers travel destinations for the Tifton, Ga., Gazette. Contact her at

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